A tapeworm is a parasite that can live in a person's intestines (bowel). They are known medically as cestodes.
Tapeworms tend to be flat, segmented and ribbon-like. Humans can catch them by:
- touching contaminated faeces (stools) and then placing their hands near their mouth
- swallowing food or water containing traces of contaminated faeces
- eating raw contaminated pork, beef or fish
Read more about the causes of a tapeworm infection.
How do I know if I have a tapeworm?
You may not know you have a tapeworm infection until you see segments of the worm in your stools (poo). A tapeworm infection does not always cause symptoms, or the symptoms are often mistaken for another illness. A tapeworm infection typically causes stomach pain and sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea.
Read more information about the symptoms of a tapeworm infection.
See your GP if you think you notice segments of a tapeworm in your stools. They can diagnose an infection with a stool sample. Further tests may be needed depending on the type of tapeworm infection.
Read more about how tapeworm infections are diagnosed.
Treating tapeworm infections
If a tapeworm grows in your intestine, you will need treatment to get rid of it. Some adult worms grow to 4.5-9m (15-30 feet) in length.
The beef tapeworm lives only in your intestines and is easily treated with tablets.
However, infection with other tapeworms or tapeworm larvae can lead to serious complications. Larvae infections are more difficult to treat because the larvae settle in other parts of your body outside your intestines.
Read more information about treating tapeworm infections and complications of a tapeworm infection.
Preventing tapeworm infections
It is important to prepare food properly to avoid a tapeworm infection. Raw meat and fish in particular must be cooked and stored correctly. Vegetables and fruit should be washed thoroughly before they are eaten.
Your personal hygiene is even more important if you are in close contact with animals, or travelling in a developed country where tapeworm infections are more common.
Read more information about preventing tapeworm infections.
Who is affected
Tapeworm infections are most commonly seen in developing countries. In the UK, tapeworm infections in people are rare.